While we have been keeping you up to date with progress on our new large-scale exhibit, we have also been working quietly on another new display. The soon-to-be opened Jellies exhibit will provide a mesmerising entrance into the new exhibit area.

Moon jelly

Most people are familiar with jellies as the transparent gelatinous lumps washed up on beaches. Others have painful memories of having been stung by a jelly or bluebottle while swimming in the sea. Few will have had the opportunity to view the living animal in its natural environment beneath the waves.

In the open oceans, some 2 000 species of jellies pulsate with life as they drift with the ocean currents. The variety of designs and the luminescent colours of these otherworldly creatures will astound even the most fertile of imaginations. In fact, it is said that some of the weird futuristic designs of space ships seen in science fiction movies are inspired by the body structures of jellies.

Simple in form and of fragile makeup, these animals have survived some 650 million years on this watery planet with little change to their lifestyles or forms.

According to Two Oceans Aquarium Designer Jessica Sloan, the look and feel of the new Jellies exhibit was inspired by the animals themselves. “Jellies are translucent and catch the light in beautiful ways, so we wanted to capture this beauty by using lighting effects and mirrors,” she explained. Emma du Plessis, our other designer, agreed, saying: “We really want to showcase the magic of jellies.”

The exhibit, which features three large cylinders and two smaller kreisels, is elegant yet simple. “We want the focus to be on the animals rather than overloading our visitors with information,” said Jessica.

The large cylinders will mostly feature box jellies, while the kreisels will display animals as and when they become available. The idea is that the mirrors will create the effect of a swarm of jellies – such swarms are often encountered by divers in the ocean.

Box jelly swarm. Photo by Geoff Spiby

At the entrance to the exhibit will be a large Perspex sculpture of a beroe jelly. Beroe jellies have hair-like cilia that run longitudinally down their bodies. According to Two Oceans: A Guide to Marine Life in Southern Africa by Prof George Branch (Struik, 1994), these cilia “beat continually, passing rhythmic waves of movement down the bands to propel the animal, creating stunningly beautiful, flickering iridescent colours.”

The beroe sculpture, designed and made by aquarist Pierre de Villiers, will be lit using LED lights to create a similar effect. “We had to spend quite a bit of time getting the timing of the lights right – we don't want the sculpture to look like a disco!” said Jessica.

Jellies is a collaborative effort between various Aquarium staff members from the curatorial, technical and design teams. “Working on this exhibit with various people across departments has shown me the level and diversity of skill at the Aquarium,” said Assistant Curator Claire Taylor. She has particularly enjoyed the opportunity of involving the designers: “It has been amazing having different opinions and eyes that are attuned to lines and colours.”

Box jelly. Photo by Dagny Warmerdam

For the designers it has been an interesting experience, learning about the different animals and seeing some really “cool” creatures. “It has also been fun working with different materials,” enthused Jessica.

Besides the live animals the team is putting together a jelly lifecycle display as well as a fun “jelly baby” photo opportunity for tiny tots and visitors with a sense of humour.

In a future blog we will introduce you to Krish Lewis, the “Jelly Man”, who will tell you more about growing jellies.

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